It was a day on the Hilltop when you could see forever. All John Ryan could see was that map.
Creighton joined the Big East Conference in a gym on Wednesday. There's probably something fitting about that.
A few hundred Jays fans, athletic personnel, media and assorted Omaha politicians showed up at the press conference of a lifetime, right there on the floor of Sokol Arena. They came to see a power move.
As it turns out, it wasn't much of a press conference. CU's president, the Rev. Timothy Lannon, was in New York, at the Big East press conference. Athletic Director Bruce Rasmussen was flying to Philadelphia with coach Greg McDermott and the team.
The crowd saw the live stream of the New York press conference. Conference officials introduced the presidents of the 10 schools, and when Lannon's smiling face popped up on the screen, a loud cheer went up. It was official.
There were no blue and white balloons that fell from the sky. Lannon and Rasmussen spoke to the Creightonians only via taped statement. They didn't sell Creighton Big East shirts.
Didn't need it. All a Bluejay could want was the image up on the two video boards, of the map of the Big East schools. From Georgetown to Villanova to DePaul to Marquette to Butler to Xavier and ... Creighton.
A finer sight some eyes have never seen.
“Look at that map,” said Ryan, a lifelong Omahan who had been following Creighton since the 1960s. “Father Lannon and Bruce hit an incredible home run. Creighton has been talking about joining a Catholic conference forever.”
Ryan couldn't take his eyes off that map. Nobody could. It was that kind of day, that kind of feeling. It should have been an anticlimactic day. This move had been reported and rumored long before that.
But there was nothing routine about this day.
Sometimes the announcement is not as good as the buildup, the reality not as good as the fantasy. It was here.
The Creighton fans who showed up Wednesday sat mostly quiet, some almost as if they were in shock and waiting for a punch line. But this was no joke.
Instead, in a surreal moment, they heard Lannon tell them, “This is our moment. This is our opportunity.”
If it sounded like the Jays just landed on the moon, they did.
That's what this moment was about. The moment. The history.
All around, the media were asking for context, what it all meant. But it's too soon.
Men's soccer coach Elmar Bolowich and volleyball coach Kirsten Bernthal Booth talked about competition and schedules and recruiting. But they can't know what it means.
Out in Philly, Rasmussen said you expect it to be a hard move, but that's why you do it. He said CU could be in the top three in the Big East, but it won't come easy. He said ticket prices won't go up any more than they normally do, at a cost-of-living rate. He talked about how CU's facilities and budget compare favorably in the league, how McDermott will adjust to recruiting to that level.
But he doesn't know how it's going to go. Nobody does.
What we know is that Creighton U. and Omaha changed forever on Wednesday. There's no denying it. The question is, how much?
I drove by the Creighton University sign on I-480 Wednesday afternoon, as I have thousands of times since 1991. It didn't look different. But now it carries a much different meaning.
The name Creighton is now associated with some of the top universities in the East and Midwest. Classic schools, with real clout in the professional and business world. There's no telling how many quality students will find their way to Omaha now. Creighton has more clout than it did yesterday.
McDermott still has to recruit. But the sales pitch just changed. And how. The Big East name has been through the ringer the last several years, but it still carries the cache for kids who follow big-time hoops. Creighton now belongs to that group. Creighton games will be called by Gus Johnson, on the brand new Fox Sports monster channel. Soon, more kids nationally — especially in the East and Mideastern hoops hubs — will know about Creighton.
And now the Jays will play each year in the mecca of hoops. Creighton hasn't played in Madison Square Garden since Paul Silas led the 1963-1964 Jays there.
Don't look now, but little brother just came back from college and everyone's saying, “When did you get so tall?” Creighton is nobody's little brother anymore.
As for Omaha, we've been growing at a pretty good clip. But this is not going to be your old Omaha, stuck in the shadow of Kansas City, Chicago, Minneapolis. This is your new-school Omaha, hanging in the same 'hood as New York, Philly, Washington, D.C., Cincinnati, Chicago, Milwaukee and Indy.
It was funny to hear the comment at the New York press conference that the Big East tourney in New York has such pull that even Omaha people will show up. Hope they aren't expecting us to show up in covered wagons.
“Wait until they come here for a game,” said former mayor Mike Fahey, a 1973 Creighton grad. “Wait until they see 18,000 at the CenturyLink. I'm not sure some of them are used to that. They're going to see an Omaha they didn't know, and they're going to go back and tell people.”
This also will change Omaha's perception as a sports town. Games with St. John's, Georgetown and Marquette are big events. A national network will show up regularly. Gus will hang here.
What that also does is give us serious basketball cred, right here in football city. Could this also affect the state of Nebraska's image in hoops, and the state of hoops in Nebraska? Yes. But how much? Too soon.
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You've earned it. Creighton has cared more about basketball, and won, and Omaha fans have showed up in a big way. You've earned the right to belong to this exclusive basketball club.
And that's what might be the most surreal thing about Wednesday. Creighton. Big East.
This is still the league that was Dave Gavitt's stroke of brilliance, the league of John Thompson and Patrick Ewing and Chris Mullin. A league for basketball by basketball people. It had perfect timing, riding the ESPN wave in the early 1980s.
The name Big East is synonymous with big-time basketball.
This league is missing a few old faces, like Jim Boeheim's mug, but the concept is the same.
In a world gone mad because of football realignment, a group of old-school basketball pals have broken away from the insanity. They've formed their own basketball safe house.
When the world goes completely mad in the next 10 years, and there are super conferences and 64 football schools calling their own shots, and everyone else is left to fend for themselves, the Big East is going to look pretty darned smart. Playing hoops, with a national TV deal, and out of reach from football's tentacles.
We won't know how smart this was for several years. But it looks as brilliant as what Gavitt put together in 1979.
And Creighton is in the club, in on the ground floor. Stable and safe for decades to come. In that sense, Lannon and Rasmussen accomplished what Harvey Perlman and Tom Osborne did for Nebraska: set the family up for life.
This is your moment, Creighton. This is your opportunity, Jays. Revel in it. Embrace it. Seize it.
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>> Video: Creighton crowd reacts to the Big East announcement: